By Mike Kinney
A relatively new pilot program operating out of Richmond aims to train local residents to construct tiny homes that can provide affordable housing to people experiencing homelessness.
The Tiny House Building Academy (THBA) launched early this summer and operates at the S. 2nd Street home of SOS! Richmond, a local organization that provides various services to unhoused people in the community. Currently, multiple instructors and two participants are spending about 20 hours per week constructing a tiny home at the property.
“We are using this first build to create a formal construction curriculum that includes the full scope of work for building all parts of the tiny home (i.e. rough framing, electrical/solar, plumbing, dry-in, interior/exterior finish, etc.),” said Project Manager Garrett Pohlman.
The THBA aims to show how tiny homes can provide affordable in-fill housing for those that are working but currently unhoused, Pohlman said. At the same time, tiny homes create wealth-building opportunities for both the resident of the tiny home, and also the homeowner that will host it in their backyard, he added.
The academy also creates workforce development and job training opportunities for residents who are trained in how to build them.
The local RichmondBUILD construction career training program offered by RichmondWORKS inspired this idea, said Pohlman.
“We saw that tiny homes create a unique opportunity to, in a short period of time, expose someone with some existing training (i.e. through RichmondBUILD) in the trades to all aspects of construction plus additional green building technologies which, at this time, are largely limited to high-end construction,” he said. “Not only would these trainees come out of the program with a better idea of what career they would like to pursue, they’d also have more hours under their belt before entering into a full-time job.”
The THBA is funded by the Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement and partially through RichmondWORKS. Spun out of a student organization at UC Berkeley, the academy is part of the Tiny House in My Backyard project (THIMBY) and is now part of Tentmakers, Inc., a local nonprofit Community Housing Development Corporation.
Those wishing to join THBA as a paid participant should be a Richmond resident and have some existing construction training. This training can occur through programs like RichmondBUILD or Rising Sun (in Oakland), or through equivalent previous on-the-job experience, according to Pohlman. Participants will work part-time for a minimum of 200 hours. Once trained, the THBA will work with RichmondWORKS to help connect participants to related employment opportunities, primarily with the building trade unions.
“An early member of the THBA was already hired full-time by one of our nonprofit partners,” Pohlman said. “Apprenticeship opportunities will also be made available through Tentmakers, Inc. on their housing redevelopment projects.”
THBA reaches out to volunteers on a limited basis, particularly on build days when extra help is needed. Volunteers should be over the age of 16, but there are no additional requirements. Interested volunteers can contact Pohlman to be added to the THBA email list (see his contact information at the end of this story).
After THBA completes is first tiny home and starts creating more, the program will partner with one of several supporting organizations, such as SOS Richmond or the Bay Area Rescue Mission, to help refer and screen applicants interested in living in them. Preference for initially constructed tiny homes is currently being given to the unsheltered individuals that have most closely supported the construction of this project.
For further information on Tiny House Building Academy, contact Pohlman at (650) 847-7069.